Evolving technology and modern civilisation have somewhat taken young people away from their history and heritage. Some schools of thought believe that some African languages and cultural heritage may become extinct if steps are not taken to transmit them to the younger ones, given that history as a subject has been removed from Nigerian school curriculum. They advocate for the return of history in schools.
For this reason, Prince Amos Bawa, an emerging historian with passion from Zuru land, Kebbi State, took a bold step in initiating a cultural orientation project by publishing works of language, history, dictionary, and the Zuru cultural calendar, aimed at reviving his people’s cultural heritage, documentation of the history of Zuru people, and tracing the origin of C’lela, their language.
According to Bawa, this initiative, to an extent, gives an account of the origins of the historic route of the Lelna people, the origin of words like Zuru, Zurnu or Azungu, the C’lela language, and so many other questions concerning this unique tribe in Kebbi State, Nigeria.
“The original word was A’zuru, meaning a land where lions lived – a very tick forest which the Zuru ancestors discovered and cleared. A’zuru people are warriors and hunters. They are predominantly Christians who occupy the larger part of the Southern Kebbi State and beyond.”
The Language and culture
Zuru is a bastardisation of A’zuguru or A’zurannu Darkkarkari which simply mean warriors. The name became prominent when the white colonial masters could not pronounce the words. They therefore shortened it to ‘ZURU’ for easy pronunciation. The people speak C’Lela. They are called LELNA and their country home is known as Copu Nalela or A’lela, while their culture is D’Lela. Lelna is used here in a large linguistic sense and also refers to the offshoot of the proto-Lelna in Southern part of Kebbi State which includes Hunnu, Daknu, Paknu, Gyaane, Karne, Gam Hyonn, Wipsni and Kamuku.
“My take in initiating this project is to create the awareness that the Zuru people of A’Lela are indigenously called Lelna as against the name Zuru man, Dan Zuru, or Dakkar Kari. Northern Nigeria prides itself with various ethnic languages apart from Hausa and Fulani, and most of these languages have strong cultural roots that define the people and their way of life,” Bawa said.
He also disclosed that there’s no statistics to justify the claim about Hausa speaking Lelnas, but the Hausa language is predominantly spoken in Zuru land because they are greater in number among the people, and because of the colonisation, the British imposed Hausa leaders over Zuru people.
Bawa explained that “most Hausa speakers today are not originally Hausas. My people are suffering for what I call the tragedy of impunity because they allowed the Hausa culture to dominate them and downplay their own culture. The colonial masters refused to recognise the minority local chiefs. Instead, they imposed their favoured subjects on the minority aborigines in our land.”
The Lelnas are known as Dunkagawa – meaning people that eat dogs as special meat or slaughter dogs for special celebration as a culture. They also share some similar language and culture with the Igbos of Eastern Nigeria. For instance, words like wrapper, water, fowl, bed etc., have similar pronunciations with Igbo. The Zuru people also celebrate cultural festivals that herald and end farming seasons like the ‘Uhola’, D’biti and Beledima, which attract foreigners and people from other parts of the country.
The Lelna people of Zuru are warlords with strong institution called the Golmo. Also as hunters, they hunted and drove away the ferocious lions that originally occupied their current settlement. The Golmo institution is an organised traditional army with commanders and lieutenants who train the K’lela youths to acquire traits of discipline, endurance and bravery for political independence. The Golmo also trains the youths in the handling of rifles, bows and arrows for hunting expeditions and for self-defense against external aggressions. They made up the large number of army that fought the historical Kanta war which lasted for forty years. The execution and success of Kanta war was based on the military prowess of the people. The British colonial administrators had discovered the Lelna peoples’ bravery quite early, hence they admired and enlisted many of them into the First World War between 1914 and 1918. It is also for this reason that the Zuru people are among those that made the Nigerian Army a strong force today.
The traditional religionists among the people believe that the jihadists never conquered the Zuru land due to their hold onto their deity called ‘Keseh’. C’lela people are highly educated in western education and their relationships with the Hausa/Fulani Moslems have been cordial. The Zurus are scattered within part of the northern states and still practice Christianity till date. The Zurus believe they are being marginalised and subjected to servitude because their states are very small.
Kebbi is an agricultural zone of the North with a fertile land that grows cash crops in commercial quantity. The crops include rice, guinea corn, maize, soya, water melon and other cash crops. They are also into cattle rearing. In fact, being Christians, cattle rearing has not in any way conflicted or created disharmony between them and the Fulani/Hausa herdsmen within the Zuru land. It would be interesting to know that Zuru land is the home of the famous Argungu – famous for the historic Argungu fishing festival.